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Man linked to Vigil homicide case set free

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

A Mexican national arrested on drug charges in the investigation into the fatal shooting of Jacqueline Vigil has been released from jail on his personal recognizance despite federal authorities hoping to detain him on an immigration hold.

Paul Morales-Ramos

Paul Morales-Ramos, 30, was arrested on the state charges Oct. 8 by the FBI-led violent crime task force that has been investigating the Nov. 19 slaying of the 55-year-old grandmother. Vigil, the mother of two New Mexico State Police officers, was killed in the driveway of her West Side home as she tried to leave for the gym.

During a search of his South Valley home for evidence linked to the crime, Morales-Ramos was arrested on state charges of felony possession of methamphetamines and other drug paraphernalia.

A search warrant return by the FBI showed he was to be booked into the Metropolitan Detention Center on the state charges, with a hold for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency because Morales-Ramos is a Mexican national allegedly in the U.S. illegally.

But Morales-Ramos is back on the streets pending trial.

“We do not honor ICE detainers nor do we communicate at all with ICE. If an inmate was being released we would not call ICE to let them know we are releasing the inmate. This inmate was booked in on the open count that you referenced below and there were no other warrants holding him,” said MDC spokeswoman Julia Rivera.

Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales III issued a press release last week to announce Morales-Ramos’s arrest, which came as part of the federal Operation Legend crackdown that involved sheriff’s detectives, the FBI, Albuquerque police and other agencies.

Asked about Morales-Ramos’s release from jail, Gonzales through a spokesman told the Journal this week, “The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office will continue to collaborate with all law enforcement agencies, and we will also pursue all outstanding criminals that pose a danger to the community. The Bernalillo County Commissioners are responsible for the current ‘Immigrant Detainer Policies’ at the Metropolitan Detention Center.”

Solving Vigil’s fatal shooting became a top priority of the Operation Legend crackdown in July and, by August, investigators had identified a suspect, who has not been charged. Since then, eight members of the suspect’s alleged inner circle have been arrested, mostly on federal charges.

Morales-Ramos, identified as the boyfriend of the suspect’s sister, had been accused in federal search warrant records of cleaning up a Jeep Cherokee that had been seen fleeing the homicide scene. No criminal charges, either federal or state, have been filed against him specifically relating to that case.

Metropolitan Court Judge Victor E. Valdez on Friday released Morales-Ramos on his personal recognizance pending trial based on his lack of prior criminal history. A preliminary hearing is scheduled Nov. 24 and he is to be supervised by the court’s pretrial services division.

Morales-Ramos, born in Torreon, Mexico, came into the U.S. through Laredo, Texas, in 2016 and has claimed to be with the Mexican army, according to a search warrant affidavit.

He couldn’t be reached on Wednesday and the state Public Defender’s office had not yet assigned a specific defense attorney to his case.

Sam Vigil, the husband of Jaqueline Vigil, appeared Wednesday at a public update on Operation Legend in Albuquerque with U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who told Vigil he was “glad a lot of progress has been made in your case.”

With Morales-Ramos’s arrest, the investigation appeared to be nearing a close with state charges against the shooter expected in the coming weeks, Vigil said Wednesday at an earlier televised gathering with Gonzales.

But Vigil said he believes the release of Morales-Ramos from custody pending trial was unfortunate.

“Our judicial system needs to be looked at really closely,” he added.

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